The old adage is fitting this year

The Coulee Region corn crop was nearly high as an elephant’s eye last Independence Day.

But this year? Try a little shy of knee high by the Fourth of July.

“We have a very opposite start to the year this year,” said Steve Huntzicker, La Crosse County UW-Extension agriculture agent. “Last year, we had warm temperatures already in March; this year, the wet and cold proceeded through May and into June.”

The result: Corn is about two or three weeks behind schedule for many farmers. Those who were able to get into their fields early were the lucky ones, but the best way to describe the overall crop outlook is “variable,” Huntzicker said.

As of Monday, Wisconsin farmers had planted 96 percent of the state’s corn crop, and 92 percent had emerged. Average height was about 20 inches, and 60 percent was in the “good” to “excellent” condition.

“It all depends on soil conditions and when the farmers could get out,” Huntzicker said.

Paul Wehrs, a West Salem dairy farmer with between 135 and 145 acres of corn, usually starts planting the second week of May, but this year, the rain kept him out of his fields until the first week in June.

Most of his plants measure up at about 12 to 14 inches. That’s well below where they were on Independence Day last year, but Wehrs said the two consecutive seasons represent two polar opposite ends of the spectrum for growers.

“In order to get averages, you have to have those extremes,” he said. “I don’t like to try to predict, but with the moisture we have, there’s still a chance to get a good yield.”

The old adage “knee high by the Fourth of July” doesn’t stand on today’s farms, which are powered by new technologies, fertilizers and seed.

“A lot of times, corn is closer to waist high (by the Fourth of July) in a normal year,” said Bill Halfman, Monroe County UW-Extension agriculture agent. “Sometimes by the Fourth, it’s even shoulder high.”

Years ago, farmers sowed their seeds later in the spring to make sure any late freezes or other weather anomalies didn’t damage the crop. But now, with the advances in plant genetics, corn varieties are tough enough to handle April planting and have a better chance of surviving the freezes, droughts and saturated soils of the notoriously fickle Wisconsin springs.

“It’s an old saying from when things were very different,” he said.

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